Wayne Gretzky Essay, Research Paper
Wayne Gretzky A Phenomenon
What makes one athlete a superstar and another average? How can one person go on to rewrite record books, while another, whose love of the game is just as intense, must settle for a view from the sidelines? That has never been determined, but Wayne Gretzky has shown that the environment in which he grew up, his athletic ability, attitude, determination, and passions paved the road for Number 99 to become one of the greatest and influential athletes of the 20th century.
The environment in which Wayne grew up was nothing out of the ordinary. He lived in his family’s modest three-bedroom home on Varardi Street in Brantford with his parents Walter and Phyllis Gretzky and his three brothers Keith, Glen, and Brent and his only sister, Kim. Wayne manifested an uncommon love for the game and Walter gave that love exceptional time and attention. Walter didn’t push Wayne into hockey-”he didn’t have to push me; I loved it,” said Wayne-but he did everything to support his son’s passion.
Wayne began skating at age two on the Nith River near his grandparents farm just outside of Brantford, Ontario. Family home movies show Wayne, at about age five, stickhandling through a lean course of rubber cones set up by his father. Walter also installed floodlights over the backyard rink so Wayne could play at night and often would stay out skating with his son long after the neighborhood kids had gone home. “Don’t go where the puck was, go where the puck is going to be,” was the chant most commonly repeated by Gretzky’s father, an amateur hockey player whose understanding of the game far surpassed his modest physical skills. Wayne’s supernatural anticipation about where the puck was going was acquired by his undivided attention to Saturday nights watching Hockey Night in Canada. He would continually trace the path of the puck on a piece of cardboard on which he’d diagrammed the outline of a rink.
After following the path of a normal child in houseleague hockey, it was soon obvious he could compete well above his age group. As his peers, even though much bigger physically, remained behind, he soared to new heights winning awards and breaking records on teams where he was much younger and smaller. Many questioned Walter s intentions of pushing Wayne into such competitive situations. However, Walter admits he only had his best interests at heart he still has every award, trophy and medal as well as his jerseys and skates from those early years. It may seem that Walter and Phyllis only concentrated on Waynes childhood, but indeed did manage to focus on the entire family. There was great support and love in the household and even siblings would call Wayne the great one when playing at home.
He admits that it was his strong family foundation and moral values that put him on the right path. He moved from his comfortable and stable home in Brantford to the big city to further his career, certainly not knowing if he and his parents had set their sights too high. The gamble was great for a young boy but he had the maturity, the passion and love of the sport to excel. Fortunately it was the right decision and his strong family ties remain to this day even though there have been many miles between them.
“My father and Glen Sather were the biggest influences in my hockey career,” said Gretzky. “It’s as if my father raised me until age 17, then said to (Sather) ‘You take him from here. ” It was Sather who would do the pushing. “It would be a crime to have the God-given talent Wayne has and not make the most of it because you didn’t push hard enough,” Sather explained. He also credits coach John Muckler who guided me to refine my tools and teach me to understand the concepts of the game itself .
Wayne was barely 6-0 and 175 pounds when he joined the NHL, could bench press a mere 140 pounds, had slightly better than average skating speed, and possessed an accurate shot, but no one had ever seen athletic ability like Wayne Gretzkys.
Over his 20 years in the NHL, the players seem to have increased in size, weight, speed, and abilities. However this has only made him work harder and have a more competitive edge. His quickness to the puck, instinct for the creation and exploitation of space, and darting elusiveness made him virtually uncheckable. “Gretzky sees a picture out there that no one else sees. It’s difficult to describe because I’ve never seen the game he’s looking at,” said Boston Bruins president and General Manager Harry Sinden.
But it is Walter who designed the distinguishing elements of Wayne’s game. His father stressed the advantages of making plays from behind an opponent’s goal line where, as Wayne said, “You’ve got the whole play in front of you and the defensemen and goalie turned around.” Gretzky has set up so many goals from behind the net that the area is often called “Wayne’s office.” It was also Walter who showed his son the advantages of curling away from the goal toward the boards, spreading and confusing the defense and creating space for passes to a trailer or a breaking winger. And it was Walter who gave Wayne the tip that may well account for his largely injury-free career. “Go into a corner at an angle,” said Walter, “When you go to the boards be turning quickly so no one gets a clean shot at you.”
In his more than 20 years as a pro, few have had a clean shot at Gretzky, partly because of his technique and natural for eluding players and partly because Gretzky usually has been teamed with burly bodyguards. “But I’m also not a banger and a crasher,” commented Gretzky. “Guys who bang and crash wear down.”
Indeed Gretzky doesn’t play with a driving force but can flit in lines and arcs that often seem unrelated to the flow of play until suddenly Gretzky and the puck are at the same place at the same time. “And Wayne’s got the lowest panic point in hockey,” said Sather, referring to Gretzky’s ability to hold the puck long past the point where any other player would have shot, passed or, more likely, turned it over. Even though Wayne wasn t the strongest or fastest he still had much more athletic ability then any other player in the National Hockey League.
Gretzky’s love for the game is obvious even to those who know nothing of hockey. “I love it,” he enthused, “I love every part of it. Skating, playing, joking around with the guys in the dressing room.
He seems also to love the ever – present stream of reporters and cameras. Always gracious and accepting when asked for interviews, he withstands the pressure that most could not. He has endured the constant requests for autographs, photographs, and a media circus for over two decades but still manages to deliver without effort. Of course, this never-ending spotlight has contributed to a very lucrative career outside of hockey. He has received many promotional contacts and endorses everything from video games to clothing.
Since he has started endorsing products, many other professional athletes have followed suit and have him to thank for topping up their salaries.
In fact, he was instrumental in obtaining the out-of-sight contracts that players demand today. Before Wayne Gretzky entered the National Hockey League the average salary was $75, 000, which then, was considered a lot of money to be given to a professional athlete. Now a hockey player s average salary is in the area of 1.3 million dollars and some would even consider a 2 million dollar offer an insult. When the 1999-2000 season began there were more than 100 players four full teams sitting out due to contract disputes. With the salaries the way they are, many teams find themselves going bankrupt trying to pay all of their superstars the big money. When Gretzky got 92 goals, 212 points, 50 goals in 39 games what would those standards be worth in today s marketplace? One cannot put a dollar figure on his impact, but if you had to, it would be billions (and that s just the New York Rangers payroll).
The huge expansion in NHL franchises in the last decade can all be attributed to Wayne Gretzky. When he left Edmonton in the summer of 1988, he awoke California and in fact, the entire United States sun belt to the game of hockey. Before Gretzky entered the league, there were 17 teams and now there are 28. Teams such as Tampa Bay, Florida, Nashville, Atlanta, San Jose, Dallas, Anaheim and Phoenix all owe their very existence to Wayne Gretzky. Even roller hockey has become a competitive game all thanks to Gretzky.
Unfortunately, with this great expansion and more probably to come, the Canadian market has greatly suffered. Teams here cannot afford the escalating costs involved in running a sports franchise. This tragic trend also has resulted in many small-market Canadian teams losing competitiveness and threatening to sell the franchise.
His impact has certainly changed the face of hockey in every aspect. He will forever be in every sports archive and remembered as a role model, family man, and a true sports hero, an ambassador.